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Supreme Court Rules Tribunal Fees are Unlawful

The Supreme Court recently ruled that workplace tribunal fees are unlawful. The ruling has been welcomed across the legal sector, with many prominent lawyers describing the now illegal fees as unfair and a major obstacle for employees trying to enforce their rights. Records indicate that since the fees were introduced in 2013 by the then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, the number of employees pursuing cases against their employers had significantly dropped.

Government will pay over £27m to employees

The Supreme Court decision means the Government will have to pay back more than £27m to the thousands of employees who paid fees for taking action against their employers for discrimination, unfair dismissal and other employment issues. The ruling is a strong reminder to the Government that it is not above the law.

General secretary of UNISON Dave Prentis claims that when the fees were introduced by ministers, they ignored well-established laws and overlooked the rights of employees seeking justice after experiencing unfair treatment at work. Prentis went on to describe the ruling as a “major victory for employees everywhere”.

Describing UNISON’s involvement in the case Prentis said, “UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who's ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand … [t]hese unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.”

Since the fees were introduced in 2013, anyone living in Scotland, England and Wales who wanted to bring their employer to court for unfair treatment was required to pay up to £1,200. For claims of unpaid wages, redundancy fees and breaches of contract, employees could have faced a fee of £160, as well as a £230 hearing payment. While for discrimination, unfair dismissal, whistleblowing and equal pay claims, the fee was £250 plus a £950 charge for the hearing.

An associate at Winckworth Sherwood, Tim Goodwin, spoke of the problem that the fees created. Goodwin said that while the fees were introduced to stop workers from bringing “hopeless” cases against their employers, the fees had worked in stopping employees from pursuing their rights, with the only reason being that they were unable to afford the fees. “[T]oday’s judgment is a real victory for those campaigning against fees,” Goodwin said.

Jason Moyer-Lee General Secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, which represents workers in the “gig economy”, said his company had spent large sums of money on employment tribunal fees in order to help its low paid members, who would have been unable to argue their cases otherwise. Moyer-Lee believes, “given the near total absence of government enforcement of employment law and the government's refusal to get serious about addressing insecure work, today's decision is a game changer … this is what justice looks like”.

Recently, Matthew Taylor a former policy chief to Tony Blair and chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts who was put in charge of a study of workers’ rights, inferred that the regulations had to be changed immediately. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Taylor said the fees made people choose whether they wanted their rights or not. “We’re saying everyone should be able to have a free judgement on whether or not they have those rights in the first place before they proceed with the case,” Taylor explained.

Alan Lewis, an employment partner at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, said it is “extremely likely” that there will now be an increase in the number of people who bring forward tribunal claims against their employers.

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Macnairs + Wilson Solicitors are a law firm with offices in Paisley and Glasgow. We offer all our clients a professional and personal service, taking a modern approach to practicing law, while holding traditional values. Our years of serving clients in the Glasgow, Paisley and Renfrewshire areas make us industry leaders in local employment law cases.

To speak to a member of our team about employment tribunals, or any other employment law issue, call our Glasgow office on 0141 551 8185, our Paisley office on 0141 887 5181 or fill out the contact form.

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